MEDIA WATCH: French opposition to war in Iraq prompts US media to attack

On the question of war with Iraq, well-thought arguments have been made in the media by both hawks and doves. However, heated criticism in the US media has focused squarely on France.

On the question of war with Iraq, well-thought arguments have been made in the media by both hawks and doves. However, heated criticism in the US media has focused squarely on France.

Media Watch reviewed 44 editorials and op-eds in major US newspapers from February 11-17 to gauge the reaction of the US media to French and German opposition to war with Iraq. French opposition to NATO and UN action against Iraq was often feared to threaten the power of these international institutions to fight a common enemy. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as saying that opposition to NATO assistance to Turkey would "reverberate throughout the alliance," while British shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said it "struck at the very foundations of an alliance in which we defend each other" (San Diego Union-Tribune). Germany was rarely cited as an equal party to France in its opposition. Critics of the Bush administration blamed its language and tactics as contributing factors to France's position. Many felt that Bush's "cowboy" image failed to endear allies. Pundits were dismayed that the tone between the countries had disintegrated into playground bullying, and stressed that the US needs stronger diplomacy. "This is locker-room geopolitics," wrote O. Ricardo Pimentel of The Arizona Republic (February 11). "Many a schoolyard scrap has been caused more by the taunts of friends than by any actual insult or injury." US supporters criticized France for opposing a war in Iraq simply to get attention and assert themselves as a world power. This led many, like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, to speculate on who gains the most from France's stance - namely Saddam Hussein. "The French foreign minister might ask who was clapping for his speech back in Baghdad and who was crying. Saddam was clapping, all his political prisoners were crying" (New York Times, February 19). France-bashing became more heated in stories that stressed the US' role in WWII and France's reported history of backing down. "This unreliability is nothing new," wrote Investor's Business Daily (February 14). "It took French forces all of 43 days to surrender to Germany, leaving US soldiers to liberate France." Eighteen percent of stories surveyed described the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," a phrase coined on Fox's The Simpsons and popularized by Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online. Goldberg responded to the rising popularity of this phrase. "[It] isn't particularly accurate here," he noted. "They're more like cheese-eating appeasement monkeys, willing to negotiate with evil for short-term advantage" (LA Times, February 16). France's relationship with Iraq was condemned as a leading cause for its stance against attacking it. The French were accused of having their own oil interests at heart, and the media noted that France was the first to sell a nuclear reactor to Iraq. "President Jacques Chirac, with his shameful record of collaboration with Saddam's fascistic regime, hardly qualifies as a disinterested statesman balancing the undeniable dangers of war against the risk of leaving Saddam in Baghdad with his weapons" (The Boston Globe, February 13). Some of the more sharply worded editorials appeared most recently, indicating that media denunciation of the French as weak and prone to collaboration with the enemy will likely continue. With or without a war in Iraq, both the US and France have a lot of work ahead in rebuilding their images in the media, as well as reestablishing trust in each other.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at

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